Pandemic Stories in the Philippines: Media Analysis

As of writing, the Philippines has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia. The pandemic’s effects were compounded by a series of climate disasters culminating in Typhoon Goni, one of the most intense tropical cyclones in the region in recent years. These events underscore the challenging transition required for the Philippines as it confronts conflating risks to the economy as well as to human health and the environment while millions remain in poverty.  

To explore how the media is covering such a complex post-COVID challenge, I analyzed the framing of 40 articles published from January to November 2020 from four media outlets* — The Philippine StarRapplerBusinessWorld and MindaNews — and found 16 articles that framed the pandemic as a catalyst for systemic changes in the Philippines. Such articles are broken down into two dominant narratives: how COVID-19 has exposed the precariousness of the current economic model and how it has disproportionately harmed the most marginalized in society.

Pandemic framed as exposing precariousness of current model 

In two of these articles which used an environmental impact frame, BusinessWorld described the pandemic as a wake-up call for both the Philippine government and the private sector to make sustainability a fundamental part of their operations. “Climate change and sustainable living are a big concern for citizens and governments as they are for the private sector,” said Beatrice Laforga, a reporter who covers the macroeconomics beat for BusinessWorld. “Corporations have the capacity to make a huge impact and do big leaps to be more responsible in their operations.” 

Three articles went further and portrayed the pandemic as a symptom of the untenable system that has prioritized endless economic growth over sustainability. Two Philstar.com news articles featured Lea Guerrero, the Greenpeace Philippines country director, describing how “the current extraction-production-consumption-disposal model” has had a detrimental impact on humans and the environment. A Rappler opinion piece used strongly worded language to state that the COVID-19 crisis could be a watershed moment from decades of “eco-imperialism”: “This pandemic that served as [a] break from the excesses of neoliberalism is a window of opportunity to draw and build an alternative – an economic democracy.” 

“Business as usual” feared as COVID-19 response, recovery derail climate action plan; a PhilStar.com articcle
COVID-19 crisis magnified class inequalities

Journalists also framed the pandemic as disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable Filipinos, calling upon universal moral values such as justice and compassion to highlight the need for systemic changes. 

Five articles in the framing analysis sample asserted that the current crisis has been aggravated by policymaking that has failed to prioritize human life and the environment. In making this claim, Rappler op-ed contributors relied on international organization sources, such as the 2020 Sustainable Development Report, while stories published on Philstar.com turned to environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, as well as youth groups, to support their arguments. 

“I think journalism is about elevating the marginalized. It’s not just about what ‘big’ people have to say.” 

Gaea Katreena Cabico, online writer for Philstar.com

Gaea Katreena Cabico, an online writer for Philstar.com and a Climate Tracker fellow, noted that she deliberately goes beyond the economic aspect of the topics she covers in her reporting to include the perspectives of those whose views tend to be excluded from media coverage. Her drive to focus on the community impact comes from her background as a human rights reporter for almost two years and her experience working on stories for Philstar.com’s “People on the Periphery” initiative, which aims to shine a light on underreported stories around the country.   

“I think journalism is about elevating the marginalized,” Cabico said. “It’s not just about what ‘big’ people have to say.” 

“Green job” narratives still lacking

Yet despite the overall emphasis on systemic changes, media narratives in the Philippines still did not adequately highlight the green jobs creation needed to ensure a just and green post-pandemic recovery.

In 2016, the Philippine government passed the Green Jobs Act, which set out tax incentives for companies that created “green jobs.” According to a Department of Energy estimate, if the Philippines successfully underwent an energy transition, this would generate 50,000 jobs from 2011-2031.

Yet reporting on job creation in the renewable energy sector is still by no means visible enough given the issue’s importance. Only one article in my framing analysis sample — a BusinessWorld story about renewable energy advocates’ push for a “green stimulus” — noted the potential of the renewable energy sector to generate jobs. “Supporters of green energy are urging the government to highlight renewables in its economic recovery plan, saying that such a measure will make the economy more resilient while generating jobs,” the article’s lead went. The author used the climate justice movement the Power for People (P4P) Coalition as its primary source, framing job creation in the renewable energy sector as part of stimulus measures that must “build the Filipinos’ resilience against future ecological and economic crises.” Interestingly, the Green Jobs Act was not mentioned in the story. 


Want to read more about green growth reporting in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam? STAY TUNED for our full research report, “A Green New Deal for Southeast Asia? How COVID-19 Shifted Green Growth Narratives Across Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam” coming out Dec 18.